Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Remembering the Soldier We Never Knew

I remember it like it was yesterday. I had just started my new job with a non-profit organization helping lower-income pregnant couples. It was a leap and an adventure after two and a half years of working for my church, EastLake Community Church. I was on my way home from my first day and decided to stop by to see a friend and her new baby girl. Celebrating life and a brand new little Nienaber, thankful for the mother’s health, surrounded by their family.

I remember just where I was sitting when we got the first call, it was to Ryan, and it was obvious something terrible was happening on the other end of the line. When Ryan got off the phone to tell us what happened, we all fell silent. Someone suggested prayer… how could we muster the words? Dave Nelson’s brother Rick was just killed by a road-side bomb in Iraq. We sat in the living room absorbing this news, unable to speak, in need of comfort, dying to comfort Dave and his family.

A few minutes passed and Dave called me directly. As he struggled to get the words out (not knowing where I was when he called Ryan), I said to him, “Dave, I already know. You don’t have to say it.” I cannot describe the emotion I sensed from him, only that I had never known Dave Nelson, my former boss and very good and trusted friend, to sound this way. However energetic, he was never dramatic. This was real, and really bad. I got off the phone stunned, unable to comprehend the pain.

I left the Nienaber house pretty soon after that, and drove the 20 minutes home in silence. I had never known Rick, or the rest of his family aside from the 5 Nelsons that were a part of my life: Dave & Rindy, and their three kids. But, wasn’t this the brother that Dave had just made a trip a year ago to perform is wedding ceremony? Isn’t this the same brother that made Dave laugh till he cried? What of his family, his 20 year old bride? Now, a 20 year old widow?

Tony, unaware of the news, had a surprise waiting for me when I got home. I walked into the apartment and noticed the kitchen was spotless and our wedding song was playing in the background; Coldplay’s “Green Eyes”. He wrapped his arms around me and I melted into a bucket of tears. I was overwhelmed with both love and grief and I had nothing to say. The lyrics of the song sounded more clear than ever…

I came here with a load

And it feels so much lighter, now I’ve met you

And honey you should know, that I could never go on without you…

We never knew Cpl. Richard J. Nelson, but we think of him now all the time. We did not know on that sad day just where we would be a year later and just how much this soldier would have to do with it. Ricky and his wife Kristen had been fans of the vision of Great Lakes Church, constantly encouraging Dave to just get it started. The vision of this church had been stalled on the runway for many years in Dave Nelson’s heart. This past weekend, Great Lakes Church just celebrated our very first Easter service, largest attendance to date, at over 600. No longer stalled on the runway, we now think of it as building a Boeing 747 while it’s already in flight! What we know of Ricky, his heart is infused in this church… his humor, his transparency, his generosity, his authentic love for Jesus. The Nelson family has warmly welcomed us to Wisconsin, always making a place for us at their table. Tony and I are blessed to be a part of it and hope to honor Ricky until we meet him face-to-face.

Please take time to visit Dave Nelson's Blog and the website honoring Cpl. Richard J. Nelson.


Corey Beth said...

You are an awesome writer! This post brought a tear to my eye. Thanks for writing about Rick!

AnnaLisa said...

Just read your blog. It amazes me how Rick's final sacrafice has been a catalyst for so many life changes. Thank you for your honoring words.